Smith made the invitation knowing that the teenager was “very unhappy” at the school as a result of homesickness and having suffered “frankly sadistic behaviour at the hand of [other] staff members”, in particular one housemistress, his barrister Neil Usher said.
The victim, who cannot be named, was a talented cellist sent to the school in 1974, aged 12, the court was told. She was a contemporary of another pupil, Frances Andrade, who killed herself last year after telling a court about the sexual abuse inflicted on her by another Chetham’s teacher, Michael Brewer.
Reading about Andrade’s suicide “catapulted” the complainant to come forward and give evidence to Greater Manchesterpolice early last year, the court heard.In a victim impact statement, she said: “I knew that what Nicholas Smith did to me was wrong. But I didn’t know how wrong. I felt a deep sense of shame about it and part of me somehow cut off. I don’t know how else to describe the level of shame and self-blame but I do know that I turned to alcohol and substance abuse to try and remove my intense self-loathing.”
She said the assault affected her playing: “I also know that I had a talent for the cello, but that my ability to focus was seriously affected by the wish to escape my feelings of low self-esteem and that the quality and quantity of my practice suffered hugely. For a string player these years are vitally important. This hurts, as the one thing I care about most, apart from my son, is music.
“I have lived with ‘what might have been’ for a very long time and through the uncovering of what happened at Chetham’s, know that things may have been very different, both in my career, and personally.”
She said that without Smith’s abuse, she felt her musical career would not have been curtailed aged 28 when she went into rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abuse, and she would have been able to form more successful relationships. “I hope that Nicholas Smith is disgusted by his own abuse of power and that the amount of damage caused by behaviour such as his, will lessen,” she said in her statement.
Smith was not on staff at Chetham’s but attended a few days each week to conduct the chamber orchestra, the court heard. He went on to have a successful career, conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Finland, America and other countries, and now lives in France.
In mitigation, Smith’s barrister argued any jail sentence should be suspended because his client had already been punished by having his good name tarnished in the media.
Usher said: “His reputation lies in ruins. That’s his fault … He has gone from being a much celebrated and sought-after conductor both here and abroad to being someone who is unemployable.”
But the judge was not convinced, telling Smith: “As a visiting conductor associated with Chetham’s school you were trusted by the school, the parents and the pupils … The level of trust in you was such that [his victim] agreed to spend the weekend with you in your country cottage. Everyone expected and was entitled to expect that you would behave professionally and appropriately in all your dealings with pupils at the school.
“You breached the trust placed in you in a most serious way. This case has rightly been discussed as one involving a gross breach of trust. You were well aware of the uncaring atmosphere which pervaded the school at the time. You were also aware that [the victim] was homesick and deeply unhappy. She was vulnerable and you knew it.”
Detective Chief Inspector Jamie Daniels said: “Following the publicity surrounding the conviction of Michael Brewer, this woman found the courage to report what had happened to her and today she has seen justice finally served after close to three decades.
“Smith, like Brewer, took advantage of a homesick young girl in a location away from school grounds while she was isolated and vulnerable. It is some small comfort that he has chosen to accept his guilt and at least spared the victim the need to give evidence in court, but this should not detract from the fact that he completely disregarded his duty to make sure no harm came to her at a time when, as a teacher, he should have been encouraging her obvious musical talent.
“Instead, he took the opportunity to abuse her for his own sexual gratification, and I hope his sentence serves as another reminder that such offences are intolerable – no matter when or where they are committed.”